For law firm marketing departments, transformation is needed to achieve growth in today’s hyper-connected digital world
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — As law firm marketing leaders contemplate what priorities are best suited to drive law firm growth in today’s fallow landscape, they may first have to answer the question, how did the legal marketing landscape become fallow in the first place?
This topic was part of a broad and spirited discussion among law firm marketing chiefs and marketing-focused attorneys, titled Fallow Earth: Building the Next-Generation Law Firm Marketing Department session, held as part of Thomson Reuters’ 29th Annual Marketing Partner Forum. The participants collectively articulated a framework for the next generation of law firm marketing departments in a world transformed by the pandemic and built to operate in rapidly-changing markets.
This discussion was kicked off with a recap of how the legal industry has evolved over the past several decades, into a world where a website visitor decides whether to engage with a firm’s site within just three seconds.
What may have started back in the 1990s with Tom Sager’s DuPont legal model — a convergence process designed to encourage law firms and corporate law departments to improve the quality, cost, and efficiency of legal services — has now come full circle with the rise of legal operations. Indeed, today’s law firms must find new and better ways to service clients and create value if they want to stay competitive. Stack that on top of other dynamics like the modern digital world and its impact on the dissemination of information, and the typical law firm marketing department role has become far more than its name suggests.
Further, the pandemic only accelerated the digital and technological landscape, pushing some law firm partners into the 21st century, whether they were ready for it or not. All of this happened alongside increased pressure to reduce overhead, staff headcount, and other costs deemed gratuitous in the eyes of many law firm management teams.
The need for efficiency
Not unlike all of the chatter being heard about law firm associate retention today, discussion participants shared a common frustration concerning the difficulty of recruiting and retaining highly-skilled professionals during the Great Resignation, while at the same time satisfying the marketing demand for a wide variety of client personas in an age of digital hyper-connectivity. Whether an attendee represented the AmLaw 25 or the AmLaw 200 mattered not.
Against this backdrop, participants agreed that there is an unprecedented need for efficiency in the way of agility, integration, and speed, without compromising quality of product or service delivery. Specialized skillsets for both strategy and execution are needed more than ever, and marketing leaders are faced with new opportunity — and pressure — to help their firms achieve growth.
During the discussion, participants discussed the need for skillsets to resolve such issues as:
- disconnection within the team and the firm’s organizational structure;
- bottlenecks within a firm’s information supply chain;
- delayed execution caused by internal interruptions and bottlenecks;
- lack of capacity within the marketing department to keep pace with demand;
- reductions in the firm’s investment in marketing;
- too much focus on the internal structure of practices, at the expense of creating value externally; and
- antiquated perceptions that marketing is not an essential component of the business of law.
Evolution of tomorrow’s marketing department requires special skill sets and knowledge beyond that which the traditional law firm marketing department model can execute, participants argued, particularly without certain specialists. Several marketing department leaders participating in the discussion cited the need for further training, development, and coaching of both professional marketing teams and lawyers; a focus on marketing technology know-how, such as understanding new systems, integration, synthesis, knowledge management, and more; as well as a higher level of integration across the firm’s technology systems that are already deployed.
Participants also talked about how such in-house professionals — pricing specialists and project managers, for example — could be leveraged to for their ability to budget and create alternate billing structures and improve operations expertise to better create a process for collaboration.
Adapting to the new landscape
In further discussion, participants identified an inherent need to review and reprioritize department structure relative to the new landscape, crafting one which is aligned with the firm’s near-term goals. Participants suggested that marketing leaders need to conduct a thorough audit of the major components of the law firm marketing ecosystem, including team structure, roles, and how a team is integrated situationally within the firm; the firm’s technology and automation systems; client needs now and tomorrow (and how best to see around corners); throughput measurement and cost of delay measurement.
By assessing these ecosystems, law firm marketing leaders are better able to develop a blueprint for success. And those firms not ready to invest in an in-house team should seek outside consultants in regard to digital strategies and execution.
Management should also train and develop — including leadership and emotional intelligence (EQ) training — existing team members to attain some or all of the specialized skills needed, so that a strong base of support and counsel is provided to attorneys as part of the marketing team’s value delivery, from a wide swath of department team members.
With the pandemic laying bare areas of growth and opportunity for law firm marketing chiefs, participants concluded that assessing the limitations of one’s current departmental structure is both a prudent and timely business exercise. Law firm needs require specialized skill sets now more than ever, and intentional collaboration must be more than just a fleeting desire.
To succeed in this new era of the business of law, a more malleable operational model for law firm marketing departments is a must.